In an essay published in July 2015’s Academic Medicine, Dr. Caroline Welbery and Dr. Rebecca McAteer of Georgetown University School of Medicine make a case for incorporating the arts into medical school curriculum. Their research suggests that exposure to the arts can provide valuable new perspectives for physicians-in-training. They have created 8 weeks of curriculum that they call an “arts observation seminar,” which includes instruction in poetry, photography, and descriptive writing.
“The literary and visual arts have long-standing and venerable roles in fortifying the lessons of clinical empathy, communication skills, critical thinking, and attention,” the doctors say. They claim that arts-based training can help future physicians keep an open mind, describe their observations with precision, and articulate their ideas effectively.
For example, the doctors suggest that the study of poetic precision “provides an educational bridge to recognizing the importance of detail in the clinical realm, where exactness is critical to providing safe, high-quality medical care. Reviewing examples of literary precision can help students learn how to avoid crude or sloppy descriptions, and how to analyze observations that lack appropriate nuance.”
As the Pacific Standard writes, “Wellbery and McAteer argue [that] arts training can help enormously in practicing focused attention, cultivating a habit of close observation, and staying aware of one's own biases. You can't properly diagnose what you don't really see, and when it comes to perceptiveness, there's nothing like a physician with a touch of the poet.”